chapter  13
17 Pages

Acquiring oral language skills over the course of a high school year abroad: What’s in it for absolute beginners?

The study of language learning in study abroad contexts has been primarily focused on the college level sojourner with several semesters of formal language instruction behind her. This study examines the learning experiences of two high school exchange students with no previous language ability to inform questions pertaining to how and why language acquisition takes place on the individual level, paying particular attention to how cross-cultural adaptation influences language learning over a year-long study abroad experience. Using a descriptive case-study design framed by cross-cultural adaptation theory (Berry, 2005), oral fluency and global proficiency gains are examined at the five-and ten-month marks of the two students’ sojourn. Observations, interviews, and external measures of linguistic and cross-cultural development over the course of a year provide for rich descriptions of the personal challenges and triumphs of these adolescent sojourners. The results of the study indicate that even absolute beginning language learners can make impressive language gains during the course of a year abroad, both in terms of global proficiency and oral fluency. Linguistic success was found to be largely a result of satisfying relationships with host nationals and specific personality traits. Implications for study abroad programs are presented, with particular attention paid to how language learning can be maximized in study abroad programs at all levels.